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Connected Health Conference Tops Itself–But How Broad is Adoption? Part 1 of 3

Posted on November 5, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site ( and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Along the teeming circuit of health care conferences that Boston enjoys year-round, a special place is occupied by the Connected Health Conference sponsored by Massachusetts giant Partners HealthCare. For 12 years this conference, shepherded by the spirited Joseph Kvedar, has shown Boston and the rest of the world what can be accomplished by the integration of data, technology, and clinical empathy.

But people I talked to at the conference were asking: where’s change visible in the health care field? Why aren’t we seeing these great things adopted throughout the country to support value-based care? The much-vaunted Accountable Care Organization model is failing to thrive, interoperability continues to elude medical sites, and consequently, health care costs are “eating” American’s incomes.

The way forward may have been shown by the two final keynotes of the conference, delivered by executives at Massachusetts General Hospital (one of the central institutions in Partners HealthCare and a destination for patients around the world).

Chief Clinical Officer Gregg Meyer referred to “punctuated evolution” to suggest that the health care field is at an “inflection point” where change is starting to happen fast. What makes this change hard is that two major initiatives separate most health care institutions from the fee-for-value world we want. One initiative focuses on organizational change and payment regimes, whereas the other involves wrenching changes to technology that track, record, and analyze what doctors and patients are doing.

I believe the reason many ACOs and other fee-for-value systems are failing (or at least not showing cost improvements) is that they took on the organizational change before they were ready with the technological parts. According to Meyer, Massachusetts General Hospital took on the technological change first, years before a payment system was offered that reimburses them for it.

Many speakers at the conference pointed to recent payment changes, such as Medicare Advantage, that promote fee-for-value. Programs along those lines in Massachusetts have shown modest headway against costs.

Even so, MGH has made only some early steps in health IT. Some doctors allow virtual visits, but it’s not done strategically and most providers don’t understand that such visits could reduce their workloads in the long run. Chief Health Information Officer O’Neil Britton said that the Epic EHR they installed still can’t accept streaming data. But he vaunted MGH’s growing use of genomics, wearables, video information delivery, and telehealth. The use of video was praised frequently at the conference for bringing information to people when they need it and reducing office visits that are costly and inconvenient for everyone.

The next section of this article will contrast techno-optimists with techno-skeptics and mention some advances reported at the conference.

Healthcare Data Security, Healthcare Breaches, and EMRs

Posted on October 10, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

We’ve posted about it earlier on this blog as well, and it’s a point worth reiterating – most data breaches are not the result of hordes of internet hackers out to get your computer system, they’re due to human errors or negligence.

Here are some recent cases of patient data that has emerged from EMRs in unexpected places:
Lost in Break-In: By now, we’ve all probably already shaken our collective heads over the Tricare data breach involving data for 4.9 million military patients. Scientific Applications International Corp. (SAIC), one of Pentagon’s principal contractors, was the outfit that was responsible for the data loss, which was stolen from a break-in into a SAIC employee’s car. The data was contained in backup tapes, and contained information such as SSN, addresses and phone numbers of patients, and personal health data.

There are several perplexing things about this story – a) the statement on Tricare’s website claiming nothing important was really lost: “The risk of harm to patients is judged to be low despite the data elements involved since retrieving the data on the tapes would require knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure” per this story.
b) SAIC’s success with HHS contracts – SAIC was awarded a lucrative $15 million contract by HHS, despite the breach.

Posted on a Homework Help forum: According to this NYT story and its follow-up, patient records (names, diagnosis codes, account numbers, admission codes) from emergency visits for a six month period at Stanford Hospital, CA, were posted online. Supposedly, a Stanford vendor sent the data to a prospective contractor as part of a testing exercise. The contractor posted it all online, on a website offering tutoring help no less, without realizing it was actual patient data. The story says Stanford had the data removed from the website, and reported the breach to federal and state authorities, as well as the patients. Stanford is arguing that none of its staff has done anything wrong, and that it severed its relationship with the contractor. To me, this is the proverbial buck being passed.

Lost in the Subway: The first NYT story mentions how the paper records of 192 patients left on a subway by an employee of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The hospital has agreed to pay a $1 million federal fine for HIPAA violations.

So to summarize some lessons learned from these data breaches:
Loss of paper records is worse than the loss of electronic records: This should be obvious to anyone who’s not a schoolgirl with a fancy diary guarded by a lock.

Your data is only as safe as your weakest link: If you’re farming out your data to vendors, then you have to know what policies your vendor has in place. If your vendor subcontracts further, then you have to keep going down the line till you are reasonably assured of data safety. When the hammer falls, it is *you* who will be coughing up the fines.

Prep with Data-handling Policies and Procedures that you and your staff religiously follow: The data was lost in very human ways – data left inside a car, posted by an untrained contractor. This just means you need to have robust, and enforced, policies in place for how patient data is handled by your employees. Maybe in your company this means that your employees can’t take work home, or that they must clear their workspaces of any patient data before they leave. Decide what makes sense in the context of your business, and maybe hire someone to enforce these rules.

Give kickbacks to HHS: If you’re in the business of contracting with the government, seriously figure out how SAIC has managed to stay in HHS’ good books. I wish I were kidding with this one.